The Aristocrats
“The Aristocrats” (Velocity / Thinkfilm)

Hmmm, would this movie even be struggling to find distribution if the faux Christian Red Staters hadn't won the election? - The Aristocrats:

One of the most unusual movies at this month's Sundance Film Festival seems like it should be a sure thing: It features some of Hollywood's most beloved comedians, from Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg and Phyllis Diller to Jon Stewart and Chris Rock. Its filmmakers include Penn Jillette, half of the magician-comedian team of Penn & Teller. It is already getting buzz, thanks to a short clip starring characters from “South Park” that's going around the Internet. Still, the movie has yet to find a distributor.
The problem? The film includes a joke that's so extremely off-color it is rarely told in public. Another problem: It's a documentary that consists of nothing but the telling, retelling and discussion of the same joke.

“The Aristocrats” is named after an anecdote that has existed since the days of vaudeville and involves extensive improvisation -- the raunchier the better. Comedians have passed the joke on over the years, mostly in private, with comic Gilbert Gottfried causing a stir in 2001 by telling it at a roast for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. The documentary, which Mr. Jillette produced with stand-up comedian Paul Provenza over a four-year period, includes interviews and footage of some 100 comedians. It is, according to its makers, a deconstruction of the joke, as well as a meditation on stand-up comedy and censorship.

So, what's the joke? Not having ever attended a vaudeville show, nor even vacationed in the Catskills, I've never heard it. Here's the Southpark version....

A site called the Agitator writes

Turns out, “The Aristocrats” is a joke nearly as old as comedy itself. It's well known among those who make a living in comedy, and even presents itself in public from time to time -- Gilbert Gottfried apparently unleashed his own version of the joke at a Friars Club roast a while back, stunning the audience, but sending his fellow comedians on the dais into a fit of tear-soaked, howling-with-laughter hysteria, partly I guess because even at the bawdy Friars Club, no one had ever thought (or had the guts -- or gall) to go there before.

The joke always begins with a family walking into the office of a talent agency, and ends with the punchline “the Aristocrats!” The aim apparently is for the joke teller to fill in the middle by putting various members of the family into the most offensive sex acts and images the mind can conjure. Each joke-teller brands the joke with his own filth. The more tasteless, the better.


More from the WSJ

For now, the movie's contents are mostly under wraps. The joke's premise is clear, though: A family approaches a talent agent, hoping to pitch its performance act. They offer to demonstrate their routine, which turns out to be extremely sexually explicit -- and the comedians describe it in as foul-mouthed and taboo-breaking terms as possible. At the end of the joke, the stunned impresario asks the family for the act's name. Their nonchalant answer -- and the punchline of the joke -- is “The Aristocrats.”


Mr. Gilmore says he was impressed with “The Aristocrats” because it took audiences to a “comedian's world we haven't seen before.” It is not simply a gag film about a dirty joke, but a work with a “real sense of purpose” that “asks real questions about taboos and moral values,” he says. “It has no nudity, no sex, but it is one of the most shocking films people will see. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.”

Whether or not the film's Sundance exposure yields a distributor, the film's producers say they're pinning their hopes on the DVD market, where small or specialized films can sell millions of copies. That would be more than enough to allow the producers to recoup their investment: “The Aristocrats” had a five-digit cost, since the film was shot on a high-end home videocamera. The comedians -- others credited with appearances include Drew Carey, George Carlin and the editorial staff of satirical newspaper The Onion -- agreed to appear without payment. (One exception, Mr. Jillette says: The late Buddy Hackett insisted on being paid, and so the filmmakers never shot footage with him.)

But even if “The Aristocrats” is acquired for distribution, there is the next challenge of getting theaters to book it. If an independent distributor picks up the film, it's likely to show it without a Motion Picture Association of America rating. Many of those distributors aren't members of that trade group and so they can release their films without a rating. That doesn't exactly make “The Aristocrats” a must-play at the Peoria multiplex. “There's probably a market for it in Santa Barbara, but probably not in Colorado,” says David Corwin, president of Metropolitan Theatres, a chain with theaters in both markets.

Despite the filmmakers' low-profile strategy, word of the film has slowly spread. Already, there's been wide Internet distribution of a clip of the joke interpreted by characters from the popular, expletive-laced cartoon show “South Park.” Mr. Jillette says “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone created the clip for the film

since so many folks are clicking to this page (my page views went up by a factor of 100 - from last month to this one); feel free to click on a google ad and throw a few pennies my way. Jes' sayin'.....

for more updates, see this Frank Rich anecdote


Here's an update on The Aristocrats: It was picked up for distribution by ThinkFIlm (they distributed Spellbound and the 2005 BEst Documentary Oscar winner Born Into Brothels) for the record setting price for a documentary at Sundance (reports vary between $750,000 and $1 million). According to ThinkFilm, it will be in theaters in Ny and LA by late July and opening elsewhere after that.
I saw the movie at South by Southwest in Austin and it was incredible. They turned away about 700 people from the screening and had to add another later in the week.
The audience was dying through the whole movie. It is by far the funnniest thing I have ever seen in a movie theater. It's so filthy, but all the comedians (and there's like a hundred of them - huge stars and people I never heard of but now can't wait to see live when i get the chance) were so loose and funny and having such a great time - it's totally infectious. A friend of mine was really taken aback by the graphic descriptions and obscene language and wanted to leave, but I talked her into staying. Before long, she was laughing so hard she couldn't breathe. It just wins you over to where the vulgarity becomes irrelevant. And then it takes you to all kinds of ideas and challenges.. all the while with non stop laughs and surprises. I had seen the South PArk clip online - rooted around to find out what I could - that's how I found this blog, among others. I figured that clip had to be a high point (or low, depending on how you look at it) of the movie - but it didn't even come close! Bob Saget (can you believe it??) will blow you away... Gilbert Godfrey is hilarious... Sarah Silverman (who also had her own movie at South by Southwest but I didn't get to see it) was outrageous (Note to self: Go see her live first chance I get)... Taylor Negron (he was the pizza delivery guy in Fast Times at Ridgmont High, and I learned after this movie, a stand up of great reputation) was incredible - his part in the movie is so weird and funny and mysterious... Martin Mull gets one of the hugest laughs... The Smothers Brothers killed me... Even Whoopi Goldberg was funny in this movie. I mean REALLY funny. It seems that hanging out with comedians may be funnier than watching them onstage.
The whole audience felt like we were being allowed behind the scenes to experience a world of comedians and comedy that we've never seen before. And on top of all of that, it really made us think a lot about so many things that had nothing to do with comedy. I'm telling you, this movie is a TRIP! It's everything you think it is and so much more.
I can't wait to see it again, and to get my hands on the DVD.
It's amazing.

excellent. Now I want to see it even more. Never thought I'd read a sentence including the words, "The Smothers Brothers killed me" :)

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on January 14, 2005 8:36 AM.

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